UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday added his voice to calls for dialogue in Iraq as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki turned to Shiite volunteers to hold the line against advancing Sunni militants.
“There is a real risk of further sectarian violence on a massive scale, within Iraq and beyond its borders,” Mr. Ban said.
The UN chief suggested that the Iraqi government was partly to blame for the rise of extremist groups such as the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which captured the northern city of Mosul a week ago.
He said he had urged al-Maliki — a Shiite Islamist — to start an inclusive dialogue with all the country’s groups, and that Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds should be able to live together harmoniously.
Mr. Ban’s warning was echoed by the prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, who told the BBC that any solution must be a political one addressing the grievances of the country’s Sunni minority.
Sunnis say they have been targeted in mass arrest campaigns and are victimized by sweeping laws against terrorism and against members of former ruler Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
ISIL militants have been joined in their attacks on security forces by other Sunni fighters, including groups linked to the Baath Party.
Fugitive former Sunni vice president Tarek al-Hashimi has described the unrest as a “popular revolution that all elements of the Iraqi people share in.” Mr. Barzani told the BBC’s Jim Muir that “there is no trust between al-Maliki and [the Sunnis], even between al-Maliki and the Kurds.” “This is not only [ISIL], it is a result of the wrong policy in Baghdad vis-a-vis the Sunni area. It is about all the Sunni community — they feel neglected,” he said.
The Iraqi army was not in a position to retake the northern city of Mosul, which fell to ISIL last week, Mr. Barzani said.
And he added that his region’s Peshmerga military, which has stepped in to defend disputed partly Kurdish areas, would not be involved in any attempt to recapture Mosul.
The warnings came as al-Maliki’s deputy, energy minister Hussein al-Shahristani, said that two million civilians had volunteered to join the fight against ISIL.
The governor of a majority Shiite southern province said his region has already sent 5,000 volunteers to stem ISIL’s advance in the north of the country.
The volunteers have headed to Balad and Samara — the most northerly major city still held by Iraqi forces — and to the outskirts of Mosul, Dhi Qar governor Yahya Baqer al-Nasiri told local news service Al-Mada Press.
Al-Maliki had called for volunteers to join security forces in battling the militants after the fall of Mosul, a call which was later repeated by a spokesman for the country’s main Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Local sources said Samara was thronged with volunteers. The majority-Sunni city 125 kilometres north of Baghdad is the site of one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines, where a 2006 bombing sparked a surge in sectarian violence.
Security officials reported clashes in various locations in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces, north of the capital.
Unidentified gunmen abducted 100 people in a raid on a vegetable market in Muweilaha, 60 kilometres south of Baghdad, and took them to an unknown location, a security official says.
The army was engaging gunmen in battle near Baquba, only 60 kilometres north-east of the capital, officials said.
The country’s largest oil refinery, at Baiji 200 kilometres north of Baghdad, was operating at reduced capacity, officials said, raising the prospect of fuel shortages throughout the country.
The Pentagon meanwhile said an extra 270 US soldiers had been sent to Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq to help secure the US embassy.
The Iraqi government struck back at its critics, slamming a Saudi Arabian statement which criticized al—Maliki’s policies as “interference in Iraq’s internal affairs and conciliation with terrorists.” Turkey meanwhile evacuated its consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra to neighbouring Kuwait, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
ISIL militants are holding 80 Turks hostage in Mosul, including the consul general in the city.